The Cultural Impact Of 9/11

The cultural impact of 9/11 has been likened to a fall from grace, the loss of US innocence as the country suffered the first attack on its own soil since the civil war. Do you agree or disagree with this point of view? Critically examine a range of cultural texts to illustrate what you see as the cultural impact of 9/11 on the US collective psyche.

As the pentagon and world trade towers were collapsing on September 11, 2001, so was the seemingly very strong American psychology. Not only the buildings were suffering from attack and destruction, but also the immunity, innocence and the great image of America, that the country has been building since the civil war – being the most powerful and influential country in the world. 9/11 has become a crucial historical event of 21st century and the reason of the turnover in the U.S culture.

The way 9/11 impacted the American society and its aftermath is well represented in O’Neill’s novel “Netherland.” The effect has been undeniably influential over the lives of the families, one of which is discussed in this work. O’Neill tells the story of a Dutch-born Hans van den Broek, whose marriage cracks apart after the incident of 9/11 and Hans is left without the wife and son. The book shows the loss of the trust in American immunity when Hans’s wife Rachel thinks of London as a much safer place to live and takes their son to England. She calls the U.S. “ideologically diseased.” (Garner)

The fact that Americans were confused by the event is clearly seen in the discussion of the nature of the incident by Rachel and Hans about whether the situation was “the European Jews in the ’30s or the last citizens of Pompeii, or whether the situation was merely near-apocalyptic, like that of the cold war inhabitants of New York…” (Garner ). Despite the destructive disaster that has significantly affected Americans’ psychology the nation was soon remedied and got the hope of returning to the top of the hill. This alleviation is proved by Hans’s action taken when he is left alone. Broek tries to find his alternative city by joining the cricket team in New York and becoming one of the few white men playing there. He meets Chuck, young Trinidadian “who is alive in ways Hans is not,” has an American dream and hopes for building a world class cricket arena in Brooklyn. (Garner)

Despite all the shock and devastation 9/11 brought to them, Americans still were hopeful of the future and looking forward to peace, which is shown in the “Netherland.” The two characters symbolize peace and a start of a new era as a cricket, which, according to Chuck, will be played by the two enemies after the war ends. Chuck says: “With the New York Cricket Club, we could start a whole new chapter in U.S. history.” (Garner ). He symbolizes the hope and the ambition that is still left to Americans to rebuild, reconstruct and turn their country into what Reagan called “The Shining City on the hill” again.

Another novel that well represents the impact and change 9/11 brought to the American society is “The Emperor’s Children.” The three expensively educated characters, Daniel, Julius, and Marina come together and embody the different methods by which American privilege is built up and sustained. However, their lives change along with the appearance of two devastating forces represented by the new characters Ludovic Seeley and Bootie. Bootie who is college drop-out and just moved to the New York City discovers that his idealized uncle Murray’s “vaunted authenticity” is not what it seems to be, which kind of questions America’s idealized, perfect image to the world. Murray Thwaite is presented as the gap between real and perceived in the novel. On the other hand, bootie represents struggle over status, and becomes novel’s hero and antihero at the same time. He polarizes Thwaite family by exposing Murray in Seeley’s magazine article. Even though the family is polarized – Murray on one side and his daughter on the other, Mr. Thwaite is still worried about his daughter’s accomplishments, who is “stymied … by the absence of any limitations against which to rebel.” Messud criticizes American culture before 9/11. She despises publications like McSweeney’s, The Onion and The New York Observer, which represent a generation’s lack of aesthetic direction, magazines that “aren’t for anything, just against everything.” (“Excerpt of The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud: Our Chef Is Very Famous in London.”)

9/11’s devastative events happen in the end of the book. The revolution it brought, as Marina states, was brought from the people far away and not by Americans. The damage Bootie brought to the family of Thwaite is the closest to express the way book holds the events of September 11:

It was an awesome, a fearful thought: you could make something inside your head, as huge and devastating as this, and spill it out into reality, make it really happen. You could – for evil, but if for evil, then why not for good, too? – change the world. (“Excerpt of The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud: Our Chef Is Very Famous in London.” O’Rourke)

The novel unquestionably reminds us of how broad and callous human imagination can be and that the reality of it is just unchangeable.

Unlike the creative minds of humanity, the perception of the world changed and affected not only the characters of “The Emperor’s Children,” but all the minds of Americans. As Susan Faludi in her book “The Terror Dream” concluded, Feminists were one of the first casualties of the 9/11 cultural impact on American psyche. According to her, feminists’ demand for the equal status before 9/11 softened the country for the attack. Now that it needed more man power and masculinity for warfare to save their world, feminists reduced the activities and shaped their minds with what Faludi describes “as a ‘not now, honey, we’re at war’ mentality.” Faludi states that women were underrepresented in media after 9/11 and even the few of them, who could make it to the platform criticized feminism. A notion of men as strong protectors and women as victims made comeback. (Leddy)

Furthermore, Faludi discusses how the post-9/11 media portrayed the American leaders “with such comic hyperbole” as Texas gunslingers and caped superheroes. This tendency continued and became more absurd in 2004, when both President Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry competed to show who the more committed “hunter” was. This kind of attitude led to the emergence of superhero myth, the main reason of which was the existence of innocent women dependent on the need of men’s protection. (“The mom and apple pie myth.”)

Yet, 9/11 widows, known as “Jersey Girls” started to question the mistakes and failures of American intelligence that turned into being the reasons connected to the devastating event. Females like Karen Hughes, who unselfishly left her job at White House as presidential speechwriter and returned home to her kids, became new examples for the American women. (“The mom and apple pie myth.”)

The 9/11 impact on Hollywood is described in the most provocative chapter of “The Terror Dream.” Faludi exposes the way Hollywood used the real life events that happened as the consequences of September 11. She exposes the example of Private Jessica Lynch, who rescued from an Iraqi hospital as: “It was a tale of a maiden in need of rescue.” Faludi states that military rescue was “made for Hollywood.” Moreover, as BBC showed later, hospital staff had an attempt to return Lynch to American forces earlier as well, just to avoid American soldiers’ shootings to their ambulance. The “rescue” of Lynch led to a bestselling personal memoir that Lynch didn’t write, and that suggested, against Lynch’s own objections, that she’d been raped. Faludi thoroughly traces the roots of post-9/11 myths back to the Puritans. People viewed disasters as God’s revenge unruliness. Faludi argues, that women were often the victims of the panics, e.g. the Salem witch trials. The writer looks at the frontier myth of strong men protecting weak women from Indians and southern blacks and states: “Our ancestors had already fought a war on terror, a very long war.” (“The mom and apple pie myth.”)

In the end of the book, Faludi accounts the rush to start a war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan to the media:”The media-inflamed need for a virile ‘victory’ drove our stampede to war, while the domestic assault on traitors and ‘moral idiots’ foreclosed any rational prewar discussion.” Faludi details the terrifying consequences of Americans’ post 9/11 fantasies: “By living in a myth, we made the world and ourselves less secure. By refusing to grapple with the actual failures that led to 9/11 we leave ourselves open to further attack.” (“The mom and apple pie myth.”)

As the war against terror, that according to Faludi was fought by ancestors of America for a long time broke out again after 9/11 with more cruel and harsh ways to fight, torture became one of them and acceptable for broader society. The TV series “24” portraying the most gruesome scenes became the most influential show that turned American’s more emotionally strong and tolerable of torture. The main, most indestructible hero of “24” Jack Bauer fights with terrorists who threaten America’s peace, by torturing them and getting truth and more information about the dangers in this way.

Timeliness and prescience of current events are one of the most remarkable things about this show, as it was launched several days after the 9/11 events. The TV series includes “enhanced interrogation techniques” that Jack Bauer uses to avoid disaster and even though he is a “good guy.” On one hand, torture still continued to be unjustifiable, even though Clint Eastwood introduced it as something that could be acceptable in his movie “Dirty Harry” 30 years before the 9/11, and had no impact on American society. However, in post-9/11 era, this kind of severe punishment became more acceptable for the U.S. “24” brought torture to the living rooms of millions of people all over the world.

The fact that it became normal and acceptable for the society on grand scale is very obvious as Kiefer Sutherland, playing Jack Bauer, received Emmy nomination for every season of the TV show. The non-profit organization, Human Rights First, found out that the number of torture instances on prime television dramatically increased after 9/11 attacks. The Parents’ Television Council criticized “24” and called it the worst offender on the television and “the leader in the trend of showing the protagonists using torture.” (O’Mathuna)

Despite the critics, the TV show still continued showing torture as acceptable method of getting the information and avoiding disaster, and reached its peak in season seven. In this season, Jack Bauer is believed, that what he does is “necessary to protect innocent lives.” Bauer thinks, that in certain circumstances the law must be broken; this changes the image of America, as the country that always respects the laws. Despite the fact, that even president being against the unethical behavior and illegal actions, in the end of the season FBI agent Vossler still considers torture as an option of punishment for one of the captured leader terrorists. This fact stated that even FBI agents, who were supposed to be more respectful towards the law than any other citizen of the U.S. were so affected by the disaster of 9/11, that they started playing the same game as terrorists did and violated the law when they had to punish the enemies of their country.

“24” went far beyond from being fictional drama and influence the public opinion and government policies on torture. Joel Surnow, co-creator of “24” claimed, that the TV show captured overall mood of Americans and forced them to see what the threats to national security were like in reality. He says, that adequately dealing with these threats involves extreme measures, and Jack Bauer, being a patriot, takes these measures to fight against terror. Moreover, the executive at Fox Television – David Nevins claims that the extreme measures are sometimes necessary for the greatest good. (O’Mathuna)

On the other hand, the teachers of military interrogation raised the concerns about the show and the dean of US military academy west point and United States’ most experienced military and FBI interrogators asked the producers to change the way they showed torture, as it interfered the trainings of American soldiers, causing them become more accepting towards this immoral and illegal behavior. It became much more difficult to make military students believe that even though terrorists did not respect international law and Geneva conventions, they should not have been acting in the same way. However, the soldiers were claiming that “torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst; it is always the patriotic thing to do”. (O’Mathuna)

“24” became a part of the real life in US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Lieutenant-Colonel Diane Beaver wrote that since many people were the fans of Jack Bauer, they got a lot of ideas of severe interrogations in Guantanamo. The show encouraged people to do something that went beyond what they had done before. (O’Mathuna)

Even the judges at Supreme Court justify torture in some cases. One of them is Canadian judge Antonin Scalia, who said, that even though criminal law was against Jack Bauer because of his deeds, the jury would not convict him, because he had saved Los Angeles and the lives of thousands of people. (O’Mathuna)

The fact that American society supports using torture as the interrogation technique is single handedly proved by the massive popularity of the show within the country. It justifies using tough tactics against high-level Al-Qaeda operations.

The fact that 9/11 really challenged American idealism and dream is clearly presented in Allison Taylor’s speech, who represents a character of U.S. president:

When I took the oath of office I swore to myself and to the American people that this country would continue to be a force for good in this world. We are a nation founded on ideals, and those ideals are being challenged today. Now, how we respond will not only define this administration, but an entire generation. And not just Americans, but Sangalans and anyone else who looks to us for guidance and strength. I won’t fail them. (O’Mathuna)

In “24” torture becomes a normal, usual act, when Jack Bauer tortures his girlfriend while doubting, that she knows something about the terrorist but when he understands that his girlfriend knows nothing about the criminals and it was wrong to punish her, they kiss each other and reunite again.

Lieutenant-colonel Beaver says that justification of torture at Guantanamo became easier after the constraints that Geneva conventions set to them were removed. He also stated that “so long as the force used could plausibly have been thought necessary in a particular situation to achieve a legitimate government objective, and it was not applied maliciously or sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.” (O’Mathuna)

Thus, in the real post-9/11 life using people as assets and forfeits in the war on terror became acceptable. Torture denies perceiving a person as a human being, the fundamental status of every man on the earth.

9/11 has found its way in the music as well. The singer that presents the deeper understanding of those disastrous events is Bruce Springsteen, whose whole album “The Rise” includes the songs about 9/11. Although one of the songs – “My City of Ruins” was initially written about the destruction of Asbury Park, New Jersey, its lyrics got a new understanding after the terrorists’ attacks on September 11. Another song “Into the Fire” is about the 9/11 heroes, who sacrificed themselves for others’ lives. The song shows that despite of this kind of loss a hope can still emerge.

You gave your love to see in fields of red and autumn brown

You gave your love to me and lay your young body down

Up the stairs, into the fire

Up the stairs, into the fire

I need you near but love and duty called you someplace higher

Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength

May your faith give us faith

May your hope give us hope

May your love give us love. (Springsteen)

The chorus, which repeats eight times during the song, gives it a meaning of the historical event, the core points of which are self-sacrifice, courage and the unity of community, that are created by using those personal virtues.

Many of the songs from this album remind Americans to fight evils by unity. This is expressed in one of the songs “Mary’s place” where the singer calls the people to join the local gathering and therefore closely unite. Eventually, even though Sprinsteen’s this album returns to the September 2011 events in less political and more concentrated love of family, friends, neighbors, and place, which in the end are believed to play the vital role in getting back peace and the grace of America.

Thus, the cultural texts analyzed above shows that despite of the big “Fall from the Grace” America experienced and the changes it brought, after more than a decade from the incident American people, more careful and bulletproof, continue to build their land – ” the land of the free and the home for the brave” – and be proud of being American.